If it will never be, it can never be.

One consequence of the idea that act is logically prior to potency is a temporal account of modalities such that if something will never come to be, then it can never come to be. There can be no real possibility of X without an actual X, and if the X in question is something temporal, then there must at some point be such a thing some such actual X in time. If, by hypothesis, we deny any real X occurring in time, we deny the very logical possibility of its real possibility. 

Objection: the act that is logically prior is virtual act, and this can exist in an omnipotent creator.

Response: while we account for omnipotence by a relation to logical possibility, real possibility has to be said in relation to its proper actuality, not a remote or virtual one. Also, there is no contradiction in God making some temporal thing impossible by choosing never to create it in time, even if he could do so.

Objection: This makes contingency and free will impossible. If I will not choose X, then I cannot do so.

Response: The “will never” assumes a view of time sub specie aeternitatis, and will does not choose under such conditions.

Insisto: But either such a perspective is possible, or it is not: if it is, then our choices are rendered otiose by it; if not, then there is no such perspective to account for the truth of the axiom.

Response. Then why not see our choices as the rendering impossible of certain things? In the view of the one looking on, are choices render even possibilities impossible.



  1. E. Milco said,

    January 12, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I’ve spent some time thinking about the third way, and I have a great deal of difficulty seeing it through. My best interpretation of it so far is this:

    If something is really possible, then at some point it will happen. Assuming that it is possible for every individual thing not to be (and therefore for everything that has existed not to be, since a necessary being by definition could not come to be or cease to be), it follows that it is possible for everything not to be (and this includes not just present things, but also things that were in the past or will come into existence). From this we can frame the possibility of nothing existing, since there is nothing and never has been anything that always exists. But if nonexistence is a universal possibility, then we have to consider the alternatives: either the past is finite, in which case at some point nothing existed, and therefore nothing would exist presently, or the past is infinite, but in an infinite past it is certain that this possibility would at some point be realized, in which case again there would be a moment when nothing existed, and therefore nothing would exist presently. Therefore, since things exist presently, there must be something the existence of which is necessary, i.e. something which has always and will always exist. (and then the argument continues from there)

    The only weak point I see in this interpretation of it is the claim that in an infinite past this particular possibility would have to be realized. That doesn’t seem like a solid inference.

    Chances are I’ve botched the whole thing, though. Any pointers?

    • CCK said,

      January 13, 2014 at 10:31 am

      “The only weak point I see in this interpretation of it is the claim that in an infinite past this particular possibility would have to be realized. That doesn’t seem like a solid inference.”

      Wouldn’t this “particular possibility” (i.e., the nothing universe) *have* to be realized in an infinite past, if what it means to be really possible is that it will happen eventually? If something that will happen eventually does not happen in an infinite time span, how could it even be possible?

    • January 13, 2014 at 11:19 am

      I think the proof you appeal to cuts along a different grain than the proof from generation STA is giving in the Third way.

      If we consider just the proximate premises to proving God’s existence in the third way, the proof becomes much simpler, viz:

      A necessary thing is either (a) necessary by another or (b) necessary in itself.
      The first cause of (a) is (b)
      Therefore (b), which all call God, exists.

      All the problems in the Third Way arise in the part of the proof where STA is trying to establish that there is something that exists necessarily. He’s trying to prove, indifferently, that there is matter, God, energy, angular momentum, “pentagon”, the Pythagorean theorem, etc. Teh first part of the proof concludes to something like matter or ideas or what falls under conservation laws.

      “The generated” for STA can be defined as what at one time was not. Now if all is of this sort, then all at some time was not. Notice that this follows not from the logic of the statements alone but from what they are about. If we try to prove this using the logic of the statements alone, it is impossible, and falls into some sort of quantifier shift problem, sc. we think that because all at some time did not exist that there was therefore some time at which all did not exist. This is not logically necessary because it is logically possible for there to be an infinite regression of finite things. But STA makes it clear he is limiting himself to a consideration of generation, which involves a finite number of constitutive causes, sc. the matter and its terminating forms. If all these intrinsic causes are generated, then there was not only a time before some form or another came to be, but also a time before there was anything that could serve as matter. This would leave us with the “nothingverse” that STA rightly finds impossible.

      An updated proof which took the ideas of matter and form as they presently apply to science would would start from the fact that all physical theories see the fundamental causes as necessary. This is why, in our modern way of putting things, all fundamental entities follow conservation laws (conservation of matter or energy or angular momentum). But notice that these entities are necessary only under a condition, sc. that they are part of a system taken as a whole. This is obviously conditional necessity, or necessity from another (sc. the whole) and so cannot count as what is absolutely necessary. Notice that nothing changes in this argument if one considers the grand physical system, whatever that is. Its necessary entities are still conditionally necessary on the universe (or multiverse) taken as a whole, which leaves us in need of something outside of physical necessitites as the adequate explanans of things physically necessary. More simply, neither the physical whole nor its necessary parts can be absolutely necessary, since both are conditions for the existence of the other.

      The physical as such, whether considered in its conserved entities or as a whole universe, is therefore only characterized by a conditional necessity, and so derives its necessity from another.

      • E Milco said,

        January 13, 2014 at 6:43 pm

        Thank you! This is very helpful!

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